Christmas boat? Why a boat is decorated in Greece

“To Karavaki” – “The Little Boat”

The Christmas boat on the main square of Parikia Mando Mavrogenis in 2020

The most traditional symbol you will find in Greece during the winter holidays is a small boat decorated with lights, usually placed in the main square of a town and close to the more international Christmas tree.

To karavaki, or small boat is rooted in the traditions of a country with a symbiotic relationship with the sea. In fact on the many Greek islands just as on Paros, the Christmas boat remains the most popular ornament of the holiday season.

Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos the protector of seafarer men

Different legends explain the tradition of the Greek Christmas Boat. One of them is related to Saint Nicolas (Agios Nikolaos), the Patron Saint of Sailors. Saint Nicolas is celebrated on the 6th of December, the day when Greeks start decorating their homes for Christmas. Boats are decorated in order to honor the saint in homes and in front of churches like the small church in Alyki (next to the playground and the public tennis court) that is devoted to Saint Nicolas and are displayed until 6th January, Epiphany, Theophania, or Ton Foton in Greek.

Christmas decoration in front of the church of Saint Nicolas in Alyki, south of Paros

Greeks are a seafarers’ nation

Greece as a nation is closely related to the sea since ancient times. Greeks are proud of their sailors, fishermen and intrepid captains they are a symbol of local identity. Men would often be away for months at a time, and those back home would be anxiously waiting for their return.

On the islands, the wives, mothers, and daughters of seaman used to spend the cold and dark winter months with their heart and mind at sea. There, their men were battling the stormy seas during the holiday season. These were months of expectation, hope, and prayer for their safe return.

The joy of seeing the boats coming back, approaching the shores, made the women celebrate in relief. The boat is a symbol to honor those brave men coming back home.

Small wooden boats

Children singing the “kalanda” Christmas carols, Asia Minor

According to tradition the small wooden boats inside the homes placed close to the fireplace and pointing towards the center of the house, never towards the door. They were also lovingly decorated to give a warm welcome to the men of the household.

Even kids prepared their own boats with paper and chips of wood, and on Christmas Eve, they used these little boats to collect the treats they had received when singing the carols (kalanda) from house to house.

Based on the article of Greek Reporter.